Incumbent Republican Councilman Stan Glinka and Democratic Councilwoman Julie Lofstad are seeking re-election this year, and two educators are also looking for seats on the town board: Tommy John Schiavoni of Sag Harbor and Thea Dombrowski-Fry of Hampton Bays.
The four candidates met for a wide-ranging debate sponsored by The Southampton Press at the Southampton Arts Center Oct. 12.
Tommy John Schiavoni, a social studies and government teacher, grew up in Sag Harbor “when Sag Harbor was a factory town,” he said at the debate. He was a co-manager of the Sag Harbor Youth Center and serves on the Sag Harbor School Board and has served as a North Haven Village Trustee. He currently sits on Southampton Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
He counts tick-borne illnesses and water quality as two of his top priorities.
“I’ve been on boards. I know government, and I know how government works,” he said, adding that he serves as the school board’s government liaison.
Incumbent Councilwoman Julie Lofstad worked as an engineer for the Port Authority at 1 World Trade Center, but came back to her hometown of Hampton Bays after Sept. 11, 2001 to work with her husband’s commercial fishing business and volunteer as a community advocate. She said she believes in helping people make their communities better, preserving what’s best about Southampton, and fiscal conservatism.
“The environment is the engine that drives our economy,” she said, adding that she hopes to work on future projects to keep Southampton’s workforce living in the community.
Incumbent Stan Glinka, a vice president at Bridgehampton National Bank, had been in retail banking for 24 years when he was tapped to run for his first term four years ago. He said he believes in having a hands on approach to governing, working on fiscally responsible and conservative propositions, and he serves as the town board liaison to code enforcement.
“I’m proud of my tax abatement legislation for hotels, which will allow them to be revitalized over a10 year period and get tax abatement,” he said.
Thea Dombrowski-Fry, who was born and raised in Water Mill, worked as a Southampton Village Police Officer and has been working in local schools since 1994. She is also an instructor in organic gardening and sustainable living. She has been active with Ducks Unlimited, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Southampton Polish-American Society. She lives in Hampton Bays with her husband and teenage son.
“I’m running because I wanted to look at my son and say ‘here’s this beautiful place for you to raise your family… I wouldn’t be able to say that today,” she said.
Whither The Hills?
Some of the candidates were circumspect when Mr. Shaw asked their positions on the Hills at Southampton Planned Development District, and the larger role of Planned Development Districts throughout town.
Mr. Glinka said he’s sat through two administrations that have offered to purchase the property through the Community Preservation Fund, both of which have been declined.
“Would I like to see it preserved? Absolutely,” he said. “But there are decisions to make. Do we put in a housing development or a private development with a golf course? At this time I cannot make a decision. I don’t think it would be fair at this point to make a stated comment on how I feel.”
Ms. Dombrowski-Fry agreed.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to make any decisions at this time. I haven’t seen everything in front of me yet,” she said. She added that she found Dr. Christopher Gobler’s report on the positive impact of nitrogen mitigation efforts proposed by the developers “very significant.”
Mr. Schiavoni said he believes PDDs “have not been working in the way they were intended.”
“There has to be an intrinsic public value. Whatever is being built has to benefit the surrounding community,” he said. “For me that’s very important.”
Mr. Schiavoni added that he believes the developers of The Hills “have been going to great expense to meet some of the demands and concerns of the public and the town board,” but he does have some concerns about their Final Environmental Impact Statement’s assertions on the amount of fertilizer, pesticides and fungicides they’re anticipating to use at the golf course, and how their application will be monitored.
“My question is, moving forward ten years, who’s going to be counting the bags of fertilizer going onto the property?” he asked. “If it’s overdone, what kind of remedies do we have? You cannot unring that bell.”
Ms. Lofstad agreed. “I still do have concerns about the mitigations that have been offered. They need to be weighed against the health of the aquifer,” she said, adding that Dr. Gobler’s report “had a lot of data in it, but at the end there were some statements that some of it was theoretical. There were a lot of qualifiers in there.”
Mr. Shaw asked the candidates how they felt about new police chief Steven Skrynecki’s policy of having officers carry assault rifles at public events.
“After he heard some concerns, he made the officers less visible,” said Ms. Lofstad. “From my personal point of view, I went into work one day at the World Trade Center in 1993, just another day at work, and a car bomb went off in the basement. I do support having more protection for our residents. It’s a sign of the times.”
Mr. Glinka agreed.
“We forget the environment we live in, the people we attract here, the amount of wealth we have,” he said. “It could take just one individual to come out here who has one axe to grind with one person of great wealth.”
Ms. Dombrowski-Fry added that “people of all socioeconomic backgrounds go to the Hampton Classic. They’re protecting each and every one of us.”
“We are being protected by a very good police department. We have to entrust in them to have our backs,” she said.
Mr. Schiavoni said he’s glad Chief Skrynecki responded to public concerns, but with 300 million weapons in this country, “I do not want our police to be outgunned by anyone.”
“I’m a public school teacher. I am concerned about this,” he said. They need to display balance and be judicious about it.”
Mr. Shaw asked the group what can be done to create real homes for young working families.
Mr. Glinka, who has been on the board during the approval process for both the Sandy Hollow Cove and Speonk Commons workforce housing projects said “the key to success is working with constituents in the area” to get their support for projects.
“We have to look to the citizens and ask ‘what do you want,’” said Ms. Dombrowski-Fry. “We all have to find a way to keep young people here, and we have to do it together.”
Mr. Schiavoni said he believes allowing more accessory apartments would be a big help.
“It would allow people in all parts of town to keep a little more money, and allow young people to have a place to live,” he said.
Ms. Lofstad agreed that working with the community has been key to the success of recent workforce housing proposals, and called for the town to develop a ‘housing opportunity think tank,’ with residents east and west of the Shinnecock Canal.
“People in Speonk were not too sure about the project. They had concerns,” she said. “We worked with them for many hours to have a compromise.”
Mr. Shaw then asked the candidates what further work needs to be done to revitalize the blighted Southampton hamlet of Riverside, just across the river from downtown Riverhead.
Ms. Dombrowski-Fry said she sees the revitalization of Riverside and Flanders as part of the key to keeping young people here, and she would like to see the town bring more business to the area.
“We have to keep moving forward. It’s a slow process,” she said. “If we keep our nose to the grindstone, we will see great changes.”
Ms. Lofstad said an increase in property assessments, new restaurants, a maritime trail alongside the river and the Children’s Museum of the East End’s plan to open a satellite space in Ludlam Avenue Park are all signs that Riverside is on the right track.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing for the area. We see the change already,” she said.
Mr. Glinka said the project is “a prime example of economic redevelopment. In 10 to 15 years there will be major growth there.
The Road Mess
As to the region’s transportation crunch, most of the candidates said a variety of solutions are necessary.
Mr. Schiavoni said he believes some infrastructure changes are in order, as well as more trains and transportation that helps people get “the last mile” to their destination. He added that more workforce housing will mean fewer cars on the road coming from out west to work on the south fork.
Ms. Lofstad said she recently rode in an Uber for the first time with her daughter, and is both intrigued and worried by the prospect of that service. She also believes in working to get more buses on the East End’s roads.
Mr. Glinka said he believes the solutions will stem from providing more workforce housing out east.
“In 1993 I lived in Quogue and worked in Montauk. It took me 50 minutes, door to door,” he said. “I can’t imagine what that would be now.”
Ms. Dombrowski-Fry said she believes lower speed limits, revitalization and affordable housing are “key to making traffic here lighter.”
Big Personal Goals
When asked about their greatest passions, Ms. Dombrowski-Fry said she believes the revitalization of Flanders and Riverside “are important places to start.” Mr. Glinka said he loves to do hands-on work, and wants to attract businesses here and help them grow. Ms. Lofstad said her passion is the environment, and “if we lose our environment, we lose everything.” Mr. Schiavoni said he wants to make Southampton Town a leader in implementing programs to combat tick-borne diseases.